Authors: Susan Russo Anderson
Her search for a record that Rodolfo had purchased arsenic was unsuccessful. If she found it, what would it prove? Another indirect piece of evidence. And if she were honest with herself, that’s all she had—bits and pieces, hearsay. Was it enough to bring Rodolfo in for questioning?
Not quite yet. There was some fact she missed or had forgotten—something she should have seen. It toyed with her memory, a chimera enticing her. Searching for truth, she concluded, was a bottomless quest.
And anyway, how could she be so foolish spending all this time chasing after ghosts when her children needed her and there were other murders to solve, other babies to deliver? If she were to take what she knew so far back to the commissioner, would he laugh at her? And why was she bothering with it? Because of her stubbornness? Because in her heart, she believed the shoemaker was guilty of fratricide and she must serve justice.
How would she feel if she gave up now? She couldn’t live with herself. And she felt sure there was a piece she was missing when it came to Rodolfo’s acquaintance with Abatti, an acquaintance that Abatti, because of his pig-headed loyalty, denied.
There was a knock on the door and Assunta’s voice called her to the noon meal. She stopped. How long, she wondered, had she been pacing back and forth?
• • •
After dinner, she went again to her mother’s room, swiping her eyes along the shelves in search of a good book. Returning to the chair with
A Tale of Two Cities
, she read as far as the first sentence when she smelled lavender and orange peel. The cloud transporting her mother evaporated and the specter appeared before her in full bloom.
“You’re sitting in my spot!”
Forcing Serafina to stand, her mother settled herself in her favorite reading chair. In front of her was the four poster where Maddalena had battled cholera two years ago and where, before succumbing to the disease, she had told her daughter the secret of Tigro’s birth, a millstone she’d carried by herself for over thirty years. But tonight her mother’s face had the freshness of youth. Her ginger curls sparkled and she wore her green velvet gown.
“You startled me!”
“Dawdling as usual, I see, and circling the same worn ground. Get a move on, girl: the answer’s before you.”
“And Ugo’s body will be buried before the week’s out. I mustn’t let that happen.”
“Ugo’s body has told you all it needs to tell, a tale of treachery and revenge, of hatred between brothers, a lust for gold that blights our land. Trust yourself, but think in different ways. You need new eyes.”
Serafina crossed her arms and stomped a foot on the floor as her mother disappeared. “Oh, you are impossible! Impossible! Why won’t you help?” But as she asked the question, Serafina snapped her fingers and ran down the stairs, her doubt dissipated.
• • •
She called for her factotum.
Beppe appeared, panting.
“Remember the body on the beach?”
“I want you and Arcangelo to follow some people for me who may be involved in his death.”
The pointed toes of Beppe’s shoes shuffled back and forth.
“You’ve captured the killer.”
“I did, but… I’ll explain later. First take this note to Rosa asking for Arcangelo’s help. Then meet me back here.”
In a few minutes, both boys stood before her.
“Carry these for me, won’t you?” Serafina handed each young man several pairs of worn and scuffed shoes. They need mending, another excuse to visit Rodolfo.
As they walked across the piazza, Serafina explained the shoemaker’s involvement in his brother’s death. “That’s why I want you to follow him, his wife, and his son. You know them?”
“I doubt that Graziella leaves the home. She’s just given birth. But if she does and if she walks with her husband, you both can follow together. If they go their separate ways, you’ll have to split up.”
Arcangelo pulled at his sleeves. “What if the three of them go out separately?”
“I don’t think that will happen, but if it does, follow the shoemaker and his wife. They live above the shop. There’s a back door and an alleyway, but I think they’ll take the side path to the street in front.”
She continued. “This is hard work. Under no circumstances are you to let them see you. Remember exactly where they go, to whom they speak. Use your head. If they enter a building with more than one door, wait for them to exit. But if they don’t come out in an hour or so, report back to me.”
“And if they take the train or a public cart?”
She dug into her reticule and handed each boy some coins. “If they take a cab, follow if you can. But don’t take the train. Come back and tell me.”
When they were a few doors from the store, she took the shoes. “I’ll go in and have them mended. Cross the street and hide behind those—”
“We know how, Donna Fina.” Arcangelo winked. “We stalked the monk, remember? And we know how to cover more than one exit.”
She smiled, recalling the part both had played in helping her catch the Ambrosi murderer. Beppe and Arcangelo disappeared. But as she mounted the shoemaker’s stairs, the ghost of something lurked in her mind.
The shop was nearly empty of shoes, except for a few battered specimens in the corner. Teo greeted her wearing a leather apron that almost scraped the floor. “Papa said I could be in charge of the shop this afternoon.” He wrote up the order and gave her a receipt. “Ready on Monday morning.”
“For you, Donna Fina.”
She smiled, remembering their last conversation about the gypsy queen.
ocoa, almonds, orange: Serafina breathed in the smell of the heavens as she entered the sweet shop next door to the shoemaker. Bending over the glass display, she ran a finger back and forth, looking at all the delicacies. Soon she saw a head of black hair rising up from a stool behind the counter.
“You’re Renata’s mother,” the girl said.
“And you must be the owner of this delicious-smelling store.”
She shook her curls. “The daughter. How can I help?”
“I thought I might get something special for supper tonight. Don’t mind me while I look. Renata’s away. She’s the one who cooks, usually does a marzipan for dessert or a scrumptious cassata.”
The girl nodded. “Most of these are her recipes.”
Serafina felt tears collect in the creases around her eyes, but she brushed them away and smiled at the girl. “You remind me of my middle daughter, Giulia. Same curls, same beautiful figure. She’s tall like you—like her father was. But…” Serafina wiped her eyes with a linen. “I hope I’m not taking too much of your time. You’re the only one tending the store?”
“Yes. Papa lets me run the store after school. No brothers, you see, and I’m the only child left at home. The shop will be mine some day. A lot to learn.”
“I see. Well, where was I?” Her eyes skittered across the counter.
“Choosing something for supper. Might I suggest one of these marzipan cakes? I’d like to give you one as a gift—a token for all the help Renata has given us.”
“How lovely of you. Renata will be so pleased when she hears. I’ll write to her straight away. And my other children will be delighted. On behalf of all of us, thank you.”
The girl nodded and began tying up the package.
“So quiet here today,” Serafina said by way of making conversation.
“In more ways than one,” the girl muttered as she tied up the pastry.
She hesitated for a bit. “It’s just that, well, lately, there’s been a lot of commotion next door.” She motioned toward the shoemaker’s shop with her head.
“You mean from outside?”
“No, raised voices coming from the back of the shop next door. Don’t know what’s going on, there. Sometimes it frightens me.”
“I know the shoemaker’s brother used to visit and make demands—”
“Not the brother. He’d come in and there’d be rows in the front. No, the raised voices come from the back.”
She nodded. “And a woman’s, I think. Sometimes the screams are piercing. Customers notice it.”
She shook her head. “No. Not Teo. He’s a friend. Helps me with my English. Sometimes he comes in and he’s so quiet—ashamed, maybe. Other times, he smiles and tells me stories and doesn’t close his mouth.”
“When was the last time you heard angry voices?”
She shrugged. “Last week, maybe the week before? Not sure.”
As she closed the door behind her, Serafina frowned. Trouble between Graziella and the shoemaker. No wonder the woman’s bright spirits had not returned.
ave some food. We were just getting to dessert.” Rosa’s cook had outdone herself: an enormous cassata stood in the middle of the table next to the marzipan cake from the sweet shop.
Carlo motioned for them to sit.
“Assunta, cake for these two hungry men.”
Both boys sat and began forking in cake. Carlo filled their glasses with wine.
Serafina pushed away her plate. “What took you so long?”
They looked at each other and grinned.
“Yes. You’ve been gone hours. I was beginning to worry. Hurry up, finish your food, then we’ll talk.”
One by one, Serafina’s children quit the room.
“Tell me what happened,” Serafina said, opening her notebook. “First, you followed?”
Arcangelo began. “First, the mother and son came out the side gate hauling a wagon filled with goods.”
“Books and some spreads and such, maybe a few pantaloons, such as that,” Beppe said.
“And we followed,” Beppe said.
“They pulled the wagon to the orphanage. We watched them go inside. In an hour or so, they came out again. The wagon was empty.”
Serafina said nothing.
“They went straight home. We hid in the usual place and waited. Waited some more.”
“No sign of the shoemaker?”
“We’re coming to that,” Arcangelo said. “We heard shouting.”
“From his shop?” Serafina asked.
“I think so,” Arcangelo said. “About four o’clock, the shoemaker slipped down the front steps, moving quick.”
“How did you know the hour?”
“My father gave me a timepiece for my birthday.” Arcangelo held up a silver watch twirling from a chain. It glinted back light from the candelabra.
“Hard to follow,” Beppe said. “Lots of people in the piazza at that time on a Saturday.”
“But we did.” Arcangelo stretched his sleeves. “He went to the train station and took the six o’clock to Bagheria. Then we came home.”
Sunday, February 17, 1867
erafina’s eyes roamed the dilapidated parlor as she waited for Mother Concetta. Dust gathered on the windowsills, made a home for itself on the cushions and in the folds of faded drapes. Was this the best that Guardian Angel Orphanage had to offer its visitors? She gazed at the crucifix listing on the wall, then realized that the room was a masterpiece, appointed with skill to snag those with deep pockets. “The gleam from the coins she’s raised would blind the
,” her mother once told her. She ought to know: they’d been friends for many years and Mother Concetta still mourned Maddalena’s loss. Besides, the old nun had sheltered Carmela when she needed it and had helped Serafina catch the Ambrosi murderer. Beneath her leathery looks was a family friend.
“Spring cleaning, the woman told me,” Mother Concetta said when Serafina asked about Graziella’s visit. “But she’s come here each year about this time to give us what she can. Yesterday she brought books, some hides our cobbler can use, a few clothes her boy had outgrown, and many of her gowns. We can re-make them into dresses for the older girls. She came from money, you know. Raised in a giving way, unlike many I could name.” The nun gave Serafina a look. “Why are you interested?”
Serafina told the nun about visiting Graziella after she delivered her latest. “She seemed, I don’t know, not altogether in the room.”
Mother Concetta shrugged and looked at her with irksome eyes. “You may feign exuberance but the world won’t always open its arms.”
Serafina ignored the barb. For the moment, she said nothing.
“But now that you mention it, the woman did seem to be elsewhere. Dignified, not a talky soul, but yesterday she was more cloaked than usual, I’d say. And she did tear up when she said goodbye.”
Monday, February 18, 1867
arly Monday morning after his breakfast, Vicenzu limped toward the door, donned his hat and coat and was about to leave when, tapping his head, he returned to the kitchen where Serafina sat finishing her breakfast.
“Staring into space again, I see.”
“Oh, yes, dear, that’s fine.”
Vicenzu seemed confused. “I found more records you’d be interested in. Papa had them squirreled in the desk apart from the others. Would you like to see them?”
She shot up like a flash and followed him out the door.
Midway through the last ledger, Serafina blinked, looked again at what she’d just read—an entry made over three years ago. Her finger traced Giorgio’s scrawl: “Thursday, December 17, 1863. 2 g, Arsenic Trioxide, sold to Pandolfina family. Rat poison, workroom.” Heart thumping, she copied the information into her notebook, then stared at the words before heading for home.
Opening the door to the shoe store, Serafina listened for the sound of the silver bell. Missing.
Teo ran his tongue around his lips and smiled. They were waiting for her on the counter, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
“Thank you, Donna Fina, for everything.” He smiled.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“Papa told me to mind the store today while he runs a special errand.”